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Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary
Luke 11

 

 

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Verse 1

A HEARTY DESIRE TO PRAY

‘Lord, teach us to pray.’

Luke 11:1

Have we this ‘hearty desire’ to pray of which the Collect for the Third Sunday after Trinity speaks to us?

I. Whence does it come?—It comes from God; it is His gift. Let us never forget this. We cannot too often call to mind that of ourselves we can do nothing that is good. Do, did I say? We cannot even wish it or conceive it; we are not ‘sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves,’ but ‘our sufficiency is of God.’ ‘The Spirit helpeth our infirmities,’ and surely one of our greatest infirmities is the reluctance and the shrinking we feel in the matter of prayer. Here, then, the Holy Spirit comes to our aid, and gives us the desire we so much need.

II. Hindrances to this desire.

(a) Inability.—We have already noticed an inability of ourselves to have this desire.

(b) Unworthiness.—We are not worthy to put up one single request to heaven. Holy men have always recognised and confessed this truth.

(c) Want of faith.—In one place Christ could not do many mighty works ‘because of their unbelief.’ And common sense will tell us that we shall never get a real love of prayer unless we are convinced of the good of it. If we do not feel any real need of the things for which we ask, nor any expectation of their being granted, must not the asking for them be a very dreary and irksome performance?

(d) Inconsistency of life.—Our lives do not match our prayers, and we are not in earnest in trying to make them do so. If a man has no longing for prayer, is it not too often because he has no longing for a holy life?

III. What is the remedy?

(a) Clearly to go on praying, and to pray more earnestly and perseveringly; never to give up, because we do not feel the delight in it that we know we ought to feel; because perseverance will bring its own reward; the more we pray, the more we shall want to pray.

(b) Doing this with the constant thought of our own weakness—always going back to the one source of strength, so that when God tells us to turn to Him, our prayer must be, ‘Turn Thou us, O Lord, and so shall we be turned.’

(c) Trying in the same strength to make our lives match our prayers, and praying for this with St. Augustine, ‘Grant, Lord, that the things we pray for and crave of Thee, for them we may also labour.’

Rev. F. J. Middlemist.

Illustration

‘My Lord and Master, be Thou my Teacher. Enrol my name among those who know not how to pray as we ought. I would be a learner in Thy school of prayer. Lord, teach me! Thou art prayer (Psalms 109:4). Breathe within me the spirit of prayer. Live within me as the Divine Intercessor. Lord, teach me to pray. Prayer that will really take hold of God’s strength. Prayer that is full of holy expectations. Prayer that “will not keep silence.” Prayer that will wait at the foot of the Cross, at the foot of the throne, at my Father’s feet. “I will direct my prayer unto Thee, and will look up” (Psalms 5:3). There is nothing too small for His care. There is nothing too great for His power. There is nothing too wearying for His love.’


Verse 2

THE SUBJECTION OF MAN’S WILL

‘Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth.’

Luke 11:2

The only possible way of feeling at home in heaven when God has called us to be there, will be to have looked out for opportunities to get into touch with the spirit of it while here on earth. There is a King in heaven—the Lord Jesus Christ. There is one will dominating heaven and earth—it is God’s will.

I. The subjection of the will.—That is one reason why Jesus Christ taught us to pray, as the will of God is done in heaven so may we do it here on earth. It is not easy. The very first step towards a Christian life is the surrender of the will to Christ by accepting Him as King. Then the struggle begins! The step we take in accepting Christ as King is the beginning of the spiritual life, but there is a long, slow, and hard process to be gone through afterwards—the yielding up of the will until it becomes one with the will of God, and then we are able to do the will of God on earth as it is done in heaven.

II. ‘As in heaven.’—We know very little about the angelic beings, but we are sure of this—

(a) That love is the motive of all that is done in accordance with the will of God. There is no servitude about the angels giving their will to God.

(b) That these beings do the will of God with full intelligence. Do we try enough to get an intelligent view of God’s plans and purposes for us? If we try to do the will of God, as it is done in heaven, we must do it not only because it is God’s will, but because by study and prayer we have come to see that it is wise and good.

(c) The angels obey in an atmosphere of joyful service. Work moved by joy becomes highest pleasure. God wants us to be fellow-workers with Him.

III. ‘So in earth.’—To do God’s will is easy enough sometimes, but to bear it, that is different. There is a good deal about burdens in the Bible. We speak now of the ‘burden’ that God lays upon us. ‘Cast thy burden upon the Lord.’ How a light breaks in upon that heavy burden which God has given us! That is the thing which in His infinite wisdom He thought was best for us. What, then, will you do with it? ‘Cast thy burden upon the Lord.’ He does not mean that He will come and lift it off. No, He has given it. He would not have given it unless He wished you to feel its weight. The weight will not crush you, because it is underpinned by His will.

—Rev. E. Grose Hodge.

Illustration

(1) ‘When I am sick and tired it is God’s will;

Also God’s will alone is sure and best;—

So in my weariness I find my rest,

And so in poverty I take my fill.

Therefore I see my good in midst of ill,

Therefore in loneliness I build my nest,

And through hot noon pant toward the shady west,

And hope in sickening disappointment still.’

(2) ‘To see the full beauty of this prayer, we should read the description of angels in Psalms 103:20-21. Heaven is the only place now where God’s will is done perfectly, constantly, unhesitatingly, cheerfully, immediately, and without asking any questions.’

(3) ‘Thou layest Thy hand on the fluttering heart,

And sayest, “Be still!”

The silence and shadows are only a part

Of Thy sweet will.

Thy presence is with me, and where Thou art

I fear no ill.’

(4) ‘If we really desire to do God’s will He will enable us to do it. There is no situation in life in which we may not do His will; in the ordinary path of life, in that life of labour to which God has appointed us all, there are abundant opportunities of putting in practice this rule, of doing God’s will and not our own, except so far as our own agrees with His, and though it may be difficult to expel all selfish feelings and all rebellious wishes, yet constant efforts will be blessed, and we shall “grow in grace.”’


Verse 3

MAN DEPENDENT

‘Give us day by day our daily bread.’

Luke 11:3

Dependence and not independence is the true condition of man; dependence upon God for all things—things bodily, things spiritual.

I. The spirit of the text is that of our entire dependence upon God. We acknowledge the Source from which all things come to us, for if even our daily bread is a gift of God, much more must all other blessings which are not so common as daily bread, and we acknowledge this also, that our dependence is from day to day—that is, constantly; that the gifts of to-day are no guarantee for the gifts of to-morrow, but that we must be daily askers if we would daily have. You will see, therefore, that there is something in the petition of the text much more than a mere petition for food; it acknowledges a principle, it asks in spirit not for bread only, but for all bodily necessaries, all that we can want from day to day for the support and health of our bodies.

II. The lessons of the text:—

(a) A lesson of reliance on God’s providence.

(b) A lesson on Christian simplicity; we pray for bread, and bread only according to our wants.

(c) A lesson on the gratitude which is due to God for all His manifold favours to us.

(d) As we pray, labour, and are thankful for our daily bread, ten thousand times more ought we to pray, labour for, and be thankful for the bread of eternal life.

—Bishop Harvey Goodwin.

Illustration

‘The English translation of the Greek words in this verse admits of some question. The literal sense appears to be, “Give us for the day, or day by day, the bread which is sufficient for our subsistence.” The Greek word which we have rendered “daily,” is only found in this place and in Matthew 6:11. Some think that the words should be translated, “our supersubstantial bread,” understanding by it, the bread in the Eucharist. Some think that the words should be rendered, “Give us day by day our to-morrow’s bread: a future bread.” This seems a very harsh and awkward sense. The true meaning appears to be that which has been already given—“the bread which is convenient, or sufficient, for our daily subsistence.” This is the interpretation maintained by Chrysostom, Theophylact, and Suidas, and ably defended by Parkhurst.’


Verse 4

TEMPTATION

‘And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil.’

Luke 11:4

Temptation is the precincts of sin. The soul that has trespassed, and is restored back again, is desirous to stand aloof from the neighbourhood of sin; it hates everything to do with sin; and therefore its cry is, not, ‘Lead us not into sin,’ but ‘Lead us not into temptation.’

I. Temptation and probation.—Temptation is sometimes, in God’s Word, taken in the same sense as probation—‘God did tempt Abraham.’ We may go further. Every temptation is a probation, and every probation is a temptation. The difference lies in the motive or intention. God tempts you to do you good, Satan tempts you to do you harm; but Satan’s temptation is God’s probation, and God’s probation is Satan’s temptation. Does, then, God ‘lead us into temptation’? Surely, for our good. Whenever Satan tempts, he does it by permission, therefore it is God’s tempting. Nevertheless, what does St. James say? ‘Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth He any man.’ The distinction lies in the intention. To make any ‘temptation,’ there must be two parts. There must be the outward object which affects the senses and which is the means of the temptation; and there must be the inward inclination and desire, which is influenced by that outward object. It is plain that there may be a strong disposition in the heart to commit any sin, but because there is no occasion on which that disposition is called into action it sleeps. While, on the other hand, the external circumstance may be very seductive, but if there is no state of heart responding to the seduction, the power of the temptation is taken away. Thus a thing is, or ceases to be, a temptation according as the feelings and principle run parallel.

II. Prevention of temptation.—The prevention may be effected in three ways. Either the occasion may not be presented, or every sinful inclination may be taken away and overruled, or the power of Satan to deal with one or the other may be abridged or withdrawn. And undoubtedly, when you say this petition in the Lord’s Prayer you ought to have those three thoughts included in your mind.

(a) You ask that God will so overrule His providential arrangements that you may not be placed in a position calculated to excite and draw out your besetting sin.

(b) You ask that if it be needful for you to be placed in circumstances of danger, you may not be overcome by them, but that God will deliver you.

(c) You ask that Satan himself may not be allowed to gain an advantage over you, but that ‘when the enemy cometh in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord may lift up a standard against him.’

III. Deliverance from evil.—Nor does the petition end here. The language of the believer is, ‘Deliver us from evil’; but he asks it advisedly and deliberately, considering three things.

(a) Remember that there is no evil which is not mingled with some good. Therefore he would analyse, and beg, not at random, to be delivered from painful dealing, but that the evil of the painful dealing may be taken away.

(b) An enlightened man knows that though he may ask God to ‘deliver him from all evil,’ whatever it be that presses upon him, even with a feather’s weight, still, he may not define the time, or fix the way.

(c) We should have a distinct understanding of the manner in which God delivers. God’s only plan of deliverance is by ransom. He has provided a system of substitution. You must carry this thought with you to your knees when you say, ‘Deliver us from evil,’ that God delivered Christ to evil that He might deliver you from it.

—Rev. James Vaughan.

Illustrations

(1) ‘The first spiritual petition in the Lord’s Prayer was retrospective, “Forgive us our sins.” The second becomes prospective, “Lead us not into temptation.” This is as it ought to be. No man should go on into the future with God till he has a clear past. And indeed it is only the soul which has once tasted forgiveness that knows what is the fear of sinning again. It is made quite white, and can he bear the thought of sullying it? Shall a man recover from a malignant fever, and go and breathe infection? Only take the personal answer to that “Forgive us”—feel your pardon—and you will find such a loathing of corruption that you will then be prepared to cry out, as you ought, “Lead us not into temptation.”’

(2) ‘The several parts of the Lord’s Prayer are outlines; we are to fill them in by our own personal circumstances, and a man misses the true intention of this clause if he does not fill it in with the thought and the secret mention of his own special temptation. If there be an audacious thing before God, it is to ask one thing with the lips, while you ask another thing with the life. And yet, what else than this do they do, who, knowing where their own particular evil bias is, nevertheless pray in the morning, “Lead us not into temptation,” and as certainly, every day, run to the very edges of their besetting sins, crying as loudly as actions can speak, “Lead us into temptation”? In the morning say, “Lead us not into temptation.” And then, all day long look out for the leading for which you have asked; for if God does not lead you, the devil will; and if the devil lead you, where will be the goal?’


Verse 8

THE FRIEND AT MIDNIGHT

‘Because of his importunity he will rise and give him as many as he needeth.’

Luke 11:8

The parable of the friend at midnight is one of the most striking pictures in the Gospel gallery. It is a picture of importunity—an importunity which you must exercise when you prefer your requests to God. The story suggests certain important reflections.

I. Why does God delay to answer prayer?—Let us take the parable as our guide. God may oftentimes delay to answer prayer—

(a) Not because the request in itself is wrong. This man was not wrong (i.) in the occasion of his petition; (ii.) in the matter of his petition; (iii.) as to the purpose for which he desired the gift. Yet the request was for a time refused, or the answer was at least postponed.

(b) But to see if we are in earnest in preferring our request. ‘If the arrow of prayer,’ says an old writer, ‘is to enter heaven, we must draw it from a soul full bent.’ What insults have we frequently offered to God by our hurried and careless petitions!

(c) And again, because God will have us longer at His feet.

(d) Yet, once more, because He would prepare us for receiving the blessing when it comes.

Those prayers that are longest in being answered are often most richly answered at last, just as those ships which are latest in coming into port often have the richest cargo.

We have seen some of the reasons for delay. Notice, now, some of—

II. The encouragements to persevere in prayer.—The force of the parable lies not in parallel, but in contrast. What, then, are the contrasts in which encouragement is to be found?

(a) The condition of the donor. ‘He that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.’

(b) The time of the application. The visitor came in the dead of night, but our petitions are offered in midday. This is the time to pray.

(c) God’s nature is the very opposite to that of the man in the parable. This man was selfish, but the nature of God is to give. This man would not rise and give simply because he was the friend of him who asked. When at length he rose, it was to save himself further annoyance. But God delights to bestow. He gives not to get rid of the applicant, but to manifest towards him His unfailing compassion and pity.

Let the parable, therefore, encourage us steadfastly to follow the pathway of prayer, the path trodden by our Saviour Himself, the path trodden by the saints that have gone before us.

Rev. E. W. Moore.

Illustration

‘In that most interesting and thrilling account of Dr. Paton’s missionary work in the New Hebrides, we have a remarkable instance of answered prayer in the discovery of water. The Lord, Dr. Paton was convinced, directed him to the place where water could be found, to the amazement of the natives. But yet there must be the patient digging of the well. The water was there, but it must be dug for; it was beneath their feet, but it only yielded itself to hard work. And so the Water of Life is accessible, placed within our reach, but if it is to be ours there must be intensity in the asking. There must be the evidence that we are in earnest.’

(SECOND OUTLINE)

IMPORTUNITY IN PRAYER

Some people say prayer is of little or no use. At any rate, they believe it is never answered. But it is a fact that there are millions now living who are like a great cloud of witnesses to the power of prayer.

I. Conditions of prayer.—If you are to pray you must—

(a) Believe in the existence of God. He that cometh to God ‘must believe that He is (i.e. that He exists), and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him’ (Hebrews 11:6). We may put it in this way—either God hears prayer, or we are all orphans in a lonely, fatherless world.

(b) Believe in His government of the world. God, as we know, governs the world by laws. Can prayer alter those laws? God governs the world by laws, but He is not the slave of those laws. They do not rule Him, else He would not be God. He rules them.

(c) Believe in His willingness to answer. Hear the comfortable words of the Blessed Lord recorded by John: ‘Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in My Name, He will give it you’ (Luke 16:23).

(d) And Christ would have men persevere in prayer. To this end He spoke the parable we are considering. Our Lord adds, ‘Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.’ Each of these words denotes a more earnest supplication. If you do not get by asking, then seek; if you do not get by seeking, then besiege the door of heaven with loud knocks. Ask! Seek! Knock!

II. The golden key of prayer.—God has given us this golden key of prayer, a key that will open all hard locks. What are you doing with it? Is the key kept bright by daily, hourly, constant use? or is it rusty because hardly ever used at all? You cannot too often remember, ‘All goeth right when that is bright.’

III. The joy of prayer.—The more you persevere the more you will find the joy of prayer; and, I may add, the power of prayer. Bring your broken vessels, bring your empty vessels to God, for He needs not your strength, but your weakness. ‘Open thy mouth wide,’ He says, ‘and I will fill it’ (Psalms 81:10). ‘For from of old men have not heard, nor perceived by the ear, neither hath the eye seen a God beside Thee which worketh for him that waiteth for Him’ (Isaiah 64:4, R.V.). And He is ‘able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think’ (Ephesians 3:20). With such promises as these ‘let the weak say, “I am strong.”’

Rev. F. Harper.

Illustrations

(1) ‘Luther used to say, “I have so much to do; I cannot get on without three hours a day of praying.” And it has been well said, “Never think lightly of that man’s religion who gets answers to prayer.”’

(2) ‘Lord, what a change within us one short hour

Spent in Thy Presence will prevail to make,

What heavy burdens from our bosoms take,

What parched grounds refresh, as with a shower!

We kneel, and all around us seems to lower;

We rise, and all the distant and the near

Stands forth in sunny outline, brave and clear:

We kneel, how weak; we rise, how full of power!

Why, therefore, should we do ourselves this wrong,

Or others, that we are not always strong,

That we are ever overborne with care,

That we should ever weak or heartless be,

Anxious or troubled, when with us is prayer;

And joy, and strength, and courage are with Thee?’


Verse 9

COMMANDING PRAYER

‘Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.’

Luke 11:9

There is no particular subject of prayer to which this exhortation is to be applied. It is perfectly general; it is universal. There is no boundary. Ask, ask everything. How large, how grand, how worthy, how like the great God and Saviour!

Are there any pre-requisites to make prayer effectual? Yes, three.

I. It must be made in the name of Jesus.—‘Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in My name He will do it.’ ‘In My name.’ In the name of Jesus. Certainly it is not enough to put the word at the end of your prayer. That is not all. It means, ‘I claim upon the merit of the intercession of the Lord Jesus Christ.’ It means more than that. It means, ‘I personate Him, and He personates me.’ That is true in the case of every Christian. If I am a real Christian, I am a member of Christ, and as a member I represent my Head, and He, as my Head, represents me. Wonderful, almost incredible fact, but it is a fact, and by virtue of that fact I command the answer to my prayer.

II. Prayer must be accompanied by a holy life.—We must lift up holy hands. And David says, ‘If I regard iniquity in my heart the Lord will not hear me.’ And we may say that for this reason, if there were no other, an irreligious life shows that I have not rightly used what God has already given me. I cannot expect He will give me more, when I have abused what he has already given me.

III. There must be faith.—‘Whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.’ And again, ‘what things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.’ That faith is a gift, but though it be a gift yet to make that faith, you must have great ideas of the great God, and you must know your Bible very well.

Fulfil these three conditions and no covenanted thing will ever fail you.

—Rev. James Vaughan.

Illustration

‘What may the supplicant ask? Anything, anything in the whole world he likes, so it be done humbly, reverently, with filial modesty and filial confidence; anything; nothing is too infinitesimally small, nothing is too infinitely great, for we are dealing with Him Who at one and the same time wields the universe and numbers the hairs of our head; to Whom the nations are as a drop in the bucket, Who rules the world, and regulates a sparrow’s fall. We may ask anything. We may ask many things which, perhaps, it would have been better for us not to have asked, which we should not have asked if we had known everything; but a little child is quite ready to pour out all its little heart into a Father’s ear. As it is truly and beautifully said, “When we present our mixed nosegay, God knows well how to separate it, leaving the weeds, and taking only the flowers.”’


Verse 14

THE EFFECT OF PERMITTED SIN

‘And he was casting out a devil, and it was dumb. And it came to pass, when the devil was gone out, the dumb spake.’

Luke 11:14

The word here translated ‘dumb,’ means, in its first use, blunt, obtuse; and so a blunted or lamed man in tongue. Mark the lesson enshrined in this little word. The power of speech was in that tongue, but that power was not presently available. The machinery of articulation was perfect, had once been used, but an intruding hand had grasped the driving-wheel, and the machinery was still. We are shown beyond all question

I. The man was under the possession of an intrusive force.—The once invited guest had at length become the domineering tormentor. The once permitted suggestion had in course of time changed into the tyrant habit of a captive life. It is always so with permitted sin. The incarnation of the blessed God has greatly weakened the force of evil. And yet, is there not here an accurate picture of what is going on around us? Allowed sin always masters a man in time. The man may loathe his master, yet he obeys him; he may fear his master, yet still he does his hateful bidding.

II. The change wrought by the tempter is threefold; a blunted tongue, a defective hearing, a dulled mind. All these are implied in that one Greek word. The silencing process employed by Satan is a gradual process—a slight impeding of the freedom of action—a little poison of sin which gently impedes the circulation of the spiritual life. So surely as the unused muscle or the long-bandaged limb loses strength, so does the impeded soul lose its power of communing with God, a neglected faculty becomes a withering faculty. A religion that becomes mechanical stops of itself.

III. What is the cure?—The old heathen philosophy honestly confessed that it could find no cure. ‘Plato,’ said Socrates, ‘perhaps the gods can forgive deliberate sin, but I do not see how.’ In the life and death of Christ the Saviour the mystery is solved, and the cure is made plain. We can look up to Christ even when our spirits are most dull, even when our prayers are most heavy, even when the whole soul seems weighed down, oppressed, silenced by the sin in our nature. We can look up to Him when we begin to struggle for the mastery with the bad habit of a lifetime, with the coldness of years, with the carelessness of a long duration. We can bring ourselves before Him, relying on His words of faithful promise, ‘Him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out.’

—Archdeacon Wilberforce.

Illustration

‘Do we suppose, because bodily possession by Satan is not so glaringly manifest as it once was, that the great enemy is less active in doing mischief than he used to be? If we think so we have much to learn. Do we suppose that there is no such thing as the influence of a “dumb” devil in the present day? If we do, we had better think again. What shall we say of those who never speak to God, who never use their tongues in prayer and praise, who never employ that organ, which is a man’s “glory,” in the service of Him Who made it? What shall we say, in a word, of those who can speak to every one but God? What can we say but that Satan has despoiled them of the truest use of a tongue? What ought we to say but that they are possessed with a “dumb devil”? The prayerless man is dead while he lives. His members are rebels against the God Who made them. The “dumb devil” is not yet extinct.’


Verse 21-22

THE STRONG MAN OVERCOME

‘When a strong man armed keepeth his palace, his goods are in peace: But when a stronger than he shall come upon him, and overcome him, he taketh from him all his armour wherein he trusted, and divideth his spoils.’

Luke 11:21-22

Satan is the ‘strong man’ of whom our Lord speaks. Beelzebub the Jews called him, after the name of the god whom the Philistines of old time worshipped.

I. He is armed and ready for his fell work of combat.—His girdle is the lies with which he is so richly supplied and with which he furnishes himself for the fight. His breastplate, the wickedness in which he delights. His feet are shod with strife, which he would fain persuade men is their natural and normal condition in their intercourse one with another. His shield is doubt, with which he tries to stop the bright arrows of truth; his helmet is despair; and he flings the fiery darts of temptation with practised hand.

II. The palace which he attacks is the heart of man, made so fair and beautiful by the Hand of the great Architect. And if Satan can once gain possession, he keeps it with what vigilance and skill he may. Many a prejudice against good does he set up as a bulwark. Many a flattery does he use to make his dominion secure. Why not do as others do? is an argument he finds very effective. And his goods are in peace; the voice of conscience is stilled. A deaf ear is turned to the whispers of the Holy Spirit of God. There is at last deep self-satisfaction, and a grievous insensibility to good.

III. A stronger than he has come, and has conquered him. Vain were all the attacks of Satan against that stronger One, whether made directly or by means of human agents. And Christ, our victorious champion, has seized for Himself the spoil of Satan, the hearts which he thought that he had subjugated for ever to his sway. And just as surely as the Saviour ‘with the finger of God,’ that is, with the slightest exertion of Divine power, cast out the evil spirits from those who were possessed, so surely can He deliver those who have subjected themselves to the dominion of Satan in any form, and been deceived by his wiles; provided only that they be willing to be rescued.

Rev. R. M. Faithfull Davies.

Illustration

‘The glimpse which our Lord’s words give to us of the unseen world around us, and of the forces which continually seek to influence us to wrong-doing, should impress upon us the stern but happy necessity of taking our side, of standing forth boldly against the strong, in the might of the Stronger. Pledged by our Baptism, by our Confirmation, by each Communion that we make, “to fight manfully against sin, the world, and devil,” it may be that we have been slack in the combat, have parleyed with the enemy, have even yielded ourselves prisoners. Our Lord tells us plainly that a house divided against itself cannot stand; neither public nor private interests can prosper under such conditions.’


Verse 23

FOR OR AGAINST?

‘He that is not with Me is against Me.’

Luke 11:23

As we look around the world we see some are for Christ, and we see others are against Him. In fact, this is the thing which divides the whole world.

I. If you are for Christ, yours is great joy.—Christ infinitely increases the joys of life and lessens the sorrows.

II. To be for Christ often necessitates great sacrifices (Read Luke 12:49-54). Duty is a great word, a noble, a grand word, but love is a higher, nobler, greater, grander word. Men will do for love, they will make sacrifices for love, which they would not do for duty.

III. To live for Christ ensures great reward (Matthew 25:21; Revelation 22:12).—Your feet shall stand at last within the New Jerusalem, and there Christ will give you eternal rest, and light perpetual will shine upon you.

—Rev. F. Harper.

Illustrations

(1) ‘The application of this expression, “He that is not with Me is against Me,” is differently interpreted by different commentators. Some think that it should be confined strictly to the subject of which our Lord is speaking: that is, the utter division which exists between His kingdom and that of the devil. They think our Lord is enforcing the absurdity of the idea that He cast out devils by Beelzebub, and that His argument is, “There can be no alliance between Me and Satan: he is not with Me, and so he is against Me: he is not gathering with Me, and so he scatters.” Others think that the expression is of much wider application, and that it is a general truth concerning all waverers, and doubters, and half-hearted and excuse-making people, of whom no doubt there were many among our Lord’s hearers. They argue that our Lord is exposing the awful danger of many of His Jewish hearers, who had been a little roused by John the Baptist, and seemed likely to receive Christ when He appeared. And yet, when He did appear, they hung back and affected to be troubled with doubts, and so continued neutral and undecided. This last opinion appears to me by far the most probable, and is confirmed by the passage which immediately follows. The sentence is directed against undecided Jews, who were like the man from whom the unclean spirit had gone forth. Their hesitating neutrality was a most dangerous position. Their last end was likely to be worse than their first.’

(2) ‘At first sight it seems difficult to reconcile our Lord’s words in this verse with His words in another place. We find Him saying of one who cast out devils in His name, but did not follow His disciples, “Forbid him not; for he that is not against us is for us” (Luke 9:50). Here, however, we find Him saying, “He that is not with us is against us.” The reconciliation of the two sentences in reality is not difficult. They were spoken of two entirely different classes of persons. In the former case, our Lord was speaking of one who was really working for Christ and against the devil, and was doing good, though perhaps not in the wisest way. Of him He says, “He that is not against us is for us.” He works against the same enemy that we work against, and therefore he is on our side. In the case before us, our Lord is speaking of men who refused to join Him and become His disciples, who held aloof from Him, and were afraid or ashamed of His service. Of them He says, “He that is not with us is against us.” He does not avow himself our friend, and so he becomes practically one of our foes.’

(SECOND OUTLINE)

NO NEUTRALITY

In this wide world there are two, and but two, opposing armies; the army of good, which is of Jesus; and the army of evil—and every soul belongs to one or the other.

I. No neutrality.—We know from our Lord’s words in the text that neutrality is impossible. Under every mask of appearances there beats a heart in every human bosom—and that heart is the Lord’s, or it is not—it belongs to Jesus, and it has chosen good—or it has chosen evil and sin. You may not be able to see which—it is, perhaps, not desirable that you should be able. But, nevertheless, we learn, without a shadow of doubt, that every one of us makes the choice between good and evil—between right and wrong—and cannot avoid making it.

II. Fatal facility of choice.—And we learn, in the next place, that there is a ‘fatal facility’ of choice—that it is terribly easy to choose wrongly in this momentous and important matter. As the first beginnings of good, so the first beginnings of evil in the soul are for the most part hidden and secret—open only to the eye of God. An unhappy person who has chosen to be on the wicked side, as I may say, may not at all realise or understand that he has so chosen. For it is but seldom that any one chooses evil by any one great and decisive act. He chooses it by degrees.

III. Under which flag?—There are, as we have seen, two armies; to which do we belong? There are two leaders; which of them do we follow? What a deeply and vitally important matter this is! and yet, I fear, we give it very little thought. Many there are who drift into evil ways, without any specially evil purpose, because they have not taken the trouble to choose aright. To make no choice is to make a bad choice; let us never forget that.

IV. Faithful soldiers.—But the choice, though of the greatest importance, is not all. We have not done all needful for our salvation when the choice is made, and made rightly. You choose to be Christ’s soldiers and servants. You do well. But that is not the end of your duty in this life; it is, indeed, only the beginning. Soldiers have battles to fight; servants have duties to perform; and when we have chosen Christ for our Master and Leader, we must not sit down and fold our hands, and think that we have done all when we have, in fact, done nothing. He would be but a poor soldier who never made a campaign; he would not be a very valuable servant who did nothing in the way of service to his master. No; if we choose Jesus as our Master, we must do something for Him; we must in some way do Him service. To this refers the words, ‘He that gathereth not with Me scattereth.’ What does this mean? Why, it means that the man, the woman, the child even, who does not help Christ’s work, hinders it. What is Christ’s work? It is the salvation of the whole world.

Illustration

‘There is a picture called “Diana or Christ?” It is really a story of the early days of the Christian Church. There in the foreground of the picture stands a young Christian maid. By her side is the altar-fire burning before the image of the goddess, and by it sits the Roman governor waiting to see Rome’s cruel law carried out. Let her cast the incense upon the flame, but one grain of it, and she is free. Loving hands and lips all about her urge her to do the thing she is bidden, and there dimly sketched in the background of the picture you see the dark outlines of the Roman amphitheatre. Is the old question never put to us: Diana or Christ? “But one grain of the incense, and thou art free.” Yet there were some who dared to die because they loved Christ too well to deny Him. Bishop Patteson was found lying dead, killed by the savages, with five wounds on his body as on his Master’s. To come down to the Chinese massacres of 1901; mark the heroism of the Chinese native Christians; out of sixty in one town there were fifty-nine who chose martyrdom, that is, to lose their heads, rather than renounce Christ, the executioner standing by meanwhile.’


Verse 24-25

THE HUMAN HOUSE

‘I will return unto my house whence I came out. And when he cometh, he findeth it swept and garnished.’

Luke 11:24-25

The human heart cannot remain empty. It must have an inhabitant, either good or evil. It must from its very nature have desires and longings of some kind, either pious and holy, or evil and degrading. And these will result in actions either good or evil, according to the nature of the desires.

Under the influence of the good Spirit of God a man’s ideas and objects in life may undergo a blessed change.

I. The improvement is not maintained.—Sometimes at a parochial mission men and women are powerfully affected. Their past life is revealed to them as by a flash of lightning. They are led to a wholly different view of the meaning of life. Nay, even like Herod at the preaching of John the Baptist, they will ‘do many things.’ The evil spirit of worldliness and unbelief appears to have been cast out of their hearts. But behold them again after the lapse of a few years or months, and they are as careless, as worldly, as indifferent to the claims of God upon their hearts and lives as before. Nay, perhaps even more so. What is the explanation? To adopt the metaphorical language of the text, the evil spirit came back.

II. One very common reason why so many fall away, who seem to have made their decision for Christ and His service, is to be found in the fact that, when they are, as they think, converted, their is no real love to their Saviour in their hearts. They do not at once endeavour, from gratitude for salvation, to bring others to salvation and to promote the Kingdom of Christ upon earth. But they are satisfied with being, as they think, safe. And the selfish heart, even the spiritual selfish heart, is an empty heart.

III. If we are successfully to combat our sinful nature, we shall submit ourselves to be ‘led by the Spirit’; we shall ‘walk in the Spirit.’

(a) The first step is to realise our own utter weakness, that we have no sufficiency of ourselves, our sufficiency must be of God. Self-reliance is fatal.

(b) We must be men of prayer. Neglect of prayer issues always in unbelief, or sensuality, or indifference. Prayer keeps us humble.

(c) There must be constant meditation upon the Holy Word of God.

(d) Then the regular attendance upon Divine Service keeps us mindful of God.

In those who, responding to Divine Grace, walk through life ‘led by the Spirit,’ in them the Comforter manifests His sanctifying power.

—Bishop Sheepshanks.

Illustrations

(1) ‘An aged clergyman, vicar of a London parish, kept a careful record of the sick cases which he visited. In a forty years’ ministry he visited two hundred careless people who seemed to repent when they thought themselves dying, and yet recovered. Of that number one hundred and eighty, or nine-tenths, went back to their old irreligious, unbelieving life, and were as bad or worse than before.’

(2) ‘A saint of old was once asked what his secret was which enabled him to lead so pure and blameless a life. He replied, “I cannot tell. I have no secret. But this I know, that did God my Father withdraw His grace from me but for an instant, I should plunge into the most dreadful sins.” This conviction was his strength.’


Verse 26

THE LAST STATE

‘The last state of that man is worse than the first.’

Luke 11:26

‘When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest … and the last state of that man is worse than the first.’ This short parable is one of the most terrible in the whole Bible.

It has a twofold application; first, to the Jewish nation; second, to individual souls of men.

I. Application to the Jewish nation.—Israel’s besetting sin was idolatry. For this, retribution had followed them over and over again. At last, they were carried away captive, and ‘by the waters of Babylon they sat down and wept.’ A deep impression had been made, and thenceforth their idolatry ceased to exist. But the Temple was only swept clear of a few gross violations of God’s law. It was garnished with a magnificent ritual; but it was empty, and untenanted by the Spirit of God; the unclean spirit of idolatry, which had been watching for re-entrance, returned in another guise, with sevenfold power, and blindness of heart, hypocrisy, pride, envy, jealousy, self-righteousness, and formality entered in, and ‘the last state of that nation was worse than the first.’

II. The words have an individual application.—‘The last state of that man was worse than the first.’ ‘Growing worse’—a difficult truth to realise—in respect to ourselves. We believe it of others; we say it of others; we mark the increase of their failings; but we take it for granted that if there is any change in ourselves, it must be for the better. We may unconsciously grow worse in three ways—

(a) By a gradual declension. We all start in life with certain faults. We each have a besetting sin; and a man gets worse as his graver personal faults develop; they grow with his growth, and he becomes a worse man.

(b) By the return of an old sin. The master-passion has been evicted; we are free from temptation; we are partially converted, convinced that our past course of life has been wrong; but there has been no true reformation. Alas! a man’s weak point will always be his weak point, even after conversion. The old spirit is ever hovering about, seeking readmission; our temple has been swept and garnished, but, alas! it is empty; nothing to take place of old passion; no strong resolutions, no strong prayers, no careful watchings, no resort to the means of grace—all unguarded, and so the foul spirit returns with sevenfold power, and ‘the last state of that man is worse than the first.’ Beware of any lull in temptation! Beware of the danger of ‘relapse’ in the spiritual life; the ‘fallingback’ into the old sins.

III. Remember that God alone can cast out devils.—No amount of education, no amount of atheistical philosophy, no high aspirations, can do this; God alone can cast them out and keep them out. And if, by His mercy, you have got rid of some sin, remember it is not enough for your soul to be swept and garnished—empty. A negative religion is well-nigh useless. We must ask that God’s Holy Spirit in all the plenitude of His power will occupy the vacant throne.

—Rev. Prebendary J. Storrs.

Illustration

‘The charge that Christ had cast out the devil by the power of the prince of devils caused Him great pain, and drew from Him an indignant answer and a terrible warning. But His reply is confessedly a difficult one. He assumes the existence of two kingdoms, each highly organised under its own ruler; the kingdom of Evil and the kingdom of Good. Between these there is an irreconcilable hostility. Each is working for its own interests and preservation, and the absolute destruction of the other. Now it is plain that absolute oneness is essential for the existence of any kingdom. There may be divisions, parties, but such differences may, and often do, conduce to the advancement of its interests; but there must be absolute oneness in relations to other kingdoms, or its very existence is imperilled. If one begins to aid and abet the designs of another, it must certainly compass its own destruction. Hence we see that whatever anarchy and divisions there may be in the kingdom of Evil, in its relation to the kingdom of Good, it must be at perfect unity. “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and a house divided against itself falleth. If Satan be divided against himself, how shall his kingdom stand? Because ye say, that I cast out devils by Beelzebub.” It might possibly be objected that Satan, in order to advance his sway, may assume the garb of the Son of Man and cast out a devil himself. Certainly, but his aim would be to further sin, and not righteousness; and so our Lord does not refer to this as an isolated case. He teaches: “The whole tenor of My work, each act, word, is part of a grand scheme for which I came into the world—viz. to destroy the works of the devil; My whole life and teaching is opposed to Satan. If, therefore, I am casting out devils by the power of Satan, then Satan is divided against himself. He is casting out himself; his unity is broken; his kingdom cannot stand; he is compassing his own destruction.”’

(SECOND OUTLINE)

THE RETURN OF THE DEVIL

This incident tells us what will happen to us if we do not resist the devil. It tells us plainly that if we do not resist him, if we still leave our hearts open to him, he will come back again, worse than before, and we shall be made worse and more wicked than if Christ had never set us free from him.

I. Set free.—All Christian people have been set free from the devil. He is turned out of the heart of every Christian. Christ turns him out of the heart of every one of us when we are baptized. He is outside of all of us after that, and if we do as we ought, and live Christian lives, we may keep him out. He comes to us and tempts us, and tries to make us let him in. Our business is to say continually, ‘Get thee hence, Satan. And now you may see why Confirmation comes when it does in a young person’s life. It comes just as a young person is growing out of childhood, and when the devil is coming to it with a number of fresh temptations it had not had before. So Confirmation comes in that the young person may receive more help from God against the devil. And then, after Confirmation, you come to Holy Communion, and in Holy Communion Christ Himself comes and abides with you and in you, and if only you keep Him there the devil cannot gain an entrance. Christ will be there always, saying, ‘Get thee hence, Satan,’ so long as you keep saying, ‘Abide with me.’

II. If you have fallen away.—The same rule tells you what you are to expect, and how you are to go on, if any of you have fallen into bad ways and are now mending. It is no use to think that merely leaving off the bad ways will do. If you only leave off the bad ways it will never last. You must grow into good ways, so that the goodness you grow into may keep out the bad ways you have broken off. And you cannot grow into goodness of your own selves. God only can make you do that. God only can make you really like goodness. But God can do this, and He will do it for every one of us if we ask Him.


Verse 27-28

HEARING AND KEEPING GOD’S WORD

‘A certain woman of the company lifted up her voice, and said unto Him, Blessed is the womb that bare Thee, and the paps which Thou hast sucked. But He said, Yea rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it.’

Luke 11:27-28

The wonder is not that this woman spake as she did, but that oftener men do not speak in the praise of that Blessed Lord, of Whom we read, ‘Never man spake like this Man.’

I. A blessing not to be denied.—In our great eagerness to keep clear of anything like superstitious reverence of the Virgin Mary, some of us have scarcely given to her her due. The Virgin Mary was blessed, for the blessing which she received had been desired for years; it had been predicted that ‘the Seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent’s head,’ and all Israel had longed to behold the Promised One, the Restorer of the race. The blessing came to Mary as a great boon, and she herself received the blessing as such.

II. The blessing to be preferred.—We see the preferable blessedness—to hear the Word of God and keep it is a blessing preferable to having been the mother of our Lord. We are sure of this, because in the weighing of the blessings the blessed Master of beatitudes holds the scales. Will not you yield at once to what He says, Whose words are sure truth? These words place the highest blessing that is conceivable within our reach, if we can only reach to the standard of hearing and keeping the Word of God. Remember that this made up the height of Mary’s blessing, for she was a believer. She hid these holy things, and pondered them in her heart; she rejoiced in God her Saviour. Mary’s blessedness lay mainly in the fact that she believed; that she acquiesced in the Divine message that He was the Saviour Whom she nursed in her arms! It was her faith that made her blessed.

III. The blessedness may be even now enjoyed.—This blessedness belongs to the present. ‘Blessed are they that are hearing the Word of God and keeping it.’ It might strictly be rendered so. That ought to fill you with a calm, serene delight. This blessedness is not dependent upon outward circumstances. ‘Hear, and your soul shall live.’ Every man wants happiness; blessedness is the aspiration of us all. Will you have it? The Word is nigh thee, on thy lip, and in thy heart; if thou hear the Word of God and keep it, there shall come to thee a double blessing; God will bless thee, and thou shalt be blessed.

Illustration

‘I would suggest to everybody, whatever may be the occupation of his or her life, that they should make it their duty to read every day, whether they feel inclined to do so or not, part of the Holy Scriptures appointed in the lectionary as the lesson for the day. Every day, in the morning, you should read a few verses if you have not time to read all the lesson. You would probably find some thought which would carry you through the difficulties of the day. Every night before you lie down to rest just read a few verses of one of the evening lessons. By so doing you join yourself to the greatest of all Bible Unions—the Anglican Church all over the world.’

(SECOND OUTLINE)

THE POWER OF THE BOOK

Just now there is a certain feeling of anxiety in the minds of some persons with regard to the Holy Bible. We fear criticism. Now if the Bible is really the Word of God, do you think that any human criticism can destroy its glowing brilliancy and pathos, or its power? Our Lord said, ‘The words I speak unto you, they are spirit and they are life.’ Any fear, therefore, with regard to what is called the Higher Criticism is utterly irrational. There is a religion which may be called a religion of the Book, and there is a religion which may be called a religion of the Person. The literature has one definite object and one only, and that is to lead the mind on to be independent of the literature, that it may live in constant communion with the Person.

I. The power of the book.—There is a certain inherent power with the Holy Bible which is only to be accounted for upon the hypothesis that it is the Word of God. There are stories too numerous to repeat of the power that has come from single utterances in the Holy Scriptures (see illustrations). We have this wonderful literature which bears its own guarantee by its power in the world, that it is indeed the Word of God. There is not a height that is not scaled by it, not a depth which cannot be plumbed by it, not a heart which cannot be consoled by it.

II. The value of criticism.—This wonderful literature was fixed in its present form by the Council of Carthage, and we accept it as the result of the criticism of the wise and holy men of that day who rejected a large number of books and gathered together others. But the power of criticism did not cease with the Council of Carthage, and during the past fifty years there has been brought to bear very careful, reverent criticism. Men like Professor Driver of Oxford and others have, with the utmost care, scientifically searched into the authorship of the books of the Bible. All the obvious interpolations which have got into it through over-zealous scribes have been expunged, with the result that so far from the book being in danger, and people being obliged to rush to the public Press to defend it, the book has been given back to us infinitely more valuable, with a far more definite assurance than it ever possessed before. There is no harm whatever in the application of honest, reverent, and careful criticism to the Holy Scriptures. Having come to us by the inspiration of God Himself, all the criticism that can be brought to bear upon the Bible can only increase its value, lustre, and power.

III. A book to live by.—Our Lord’s words implied that the Bible is a book to live by. ‘Blessed are they that hear the Word of God, and keep it.’ Are we doing that? Do we search the Scriptures, we who belong to the race which boasts of having possession of the open Bible? We of the English nation which supplies the world with its Bibles, are we hearing and keeping its precepts? Everybody has a Bible, but it is not everybody who has an open Bible. When you lose your taste for the Bible there is something wrong with your spiritual perception. It is a note of warning.

IV. The book reveals Christ.—Love the literature, follow it, but do not rest on it as an end in itself. Look upon it as a means to an end, and that end a personal knowledge of and personal union with the Lord Jesus Christ. Each one of us can say, ‘I wonder how far in my own heart I have been keeping the Word of God?’ It is not always the greatest students of Holy Scripture who have the fullest realisation of the blessedness spoken of by our Lord. What hinders many from coming to the Lord is a sort of unexpressed idea that He might demand sacrifice. ‘There is a great deal in my life,’ we say, ‘which might be contrary to His will and purpose.’ But if our Lord demands sacrifice, He always gives something better in its place. There is not one single case in history of those who have really come to our Blessed Lord, and have had to make sacrifices to do so, who have not been abundantly recompensed with some higher, nobler joy. The blessedness of hearing and keeping the Word of God is that it brings us face to face with the Lord Jesus.

Archdeacon Wilberforce.

Illustrations

(1) ‘We all know how the Czar Alexander, who emancipated the serfs in Russia, said that when he was young someone put into his hands a Bible. He studied it greedily, and he said to his tutor, “If ever I grow up to be Czar, I will set free all the slaves in Russia: this book teaches it to me.” There is power about the Bible.’

(2) ‘We all remember how Voltaire made the prophecy that in one hundred years the Bible would have passed away, yet in the very room in which he was, the Geneva Bible Society, not long after, started its operations, and the very press which Voltaire had used for the propagation of his atheistic opinions was used for the printing of the Scriptures; and under that very roof, within twenty years, there were above twenty tons of Bibles.’

(3) ‘Men of profound intellect, men who have risen to the very top of literary success, like Sir Walter Scott, have lived by the Bible. It was the one thing he cared for when he was a dying man. He said, “Read me the book,” and they said to him, “What book?” and he said, “There is only one book.”’

(4) ‘Robert Ingersoll, the great atheist of America, said once to an intellectual Boston lady who loved her Bible: “Madam, you seem very fond of your Bible. Why are you?” “Well,” said she, “the fact is, the Author of this book is a very particular, personal friend of mine.”’

(5) ‘Not every one recognises the blessedness of the book. Take the case of such a brilliantly intellectual man as Bishop Butler. What does the world not owe to that great logician? The man who demolished not only the outworks but the very foundations of intellectual atheism. Yet he did not understand this feeling until he lay a dying man. He said to his chaplain, “Do you think that I have a right to believe that the Lord will receive me?’ And the chaplain quoted to him the words, “Him that cometh unto Me I will in no wise cast out.” And the bishop said, “I have preached on that text scores and scores of times, I have turned it over in my mind, but I never saw the light in it until this moment.”’


Verse 29

ASKING FOR A SIGN

‘This is an evil generation: they seek a sign.’

Luke 11:29

We see here the desperate unbelief of the Jews in our Lord’s time. We are told that though they ‘gathered thick together’ to hear Christ preach, they still professed to be waiting for a sign. They pretended to want more evidence before they believed.

I. Unbelief in this world.—Our Lord declares that the Queen of Sheba and the men of Nineveh would put the Jews to shame at the last day. The Queen of Sheba had such faith that she travelled a vast distance in order to hear the wisdom of Solomon. Yet Solomon, with all his wisdom, was an erring and imperfect king. The Ninevites had such faith that they believed the message which Jonah brought from God, and repented. Yet even Jonah was a weak and unstable prophet. The Jews of our Lord’s time had far higher light and infinitely clearer teachings than either Solomon or Jonah could supply. They had amongst them the King of kings, the Prophet greater than Moses. Yet the Jews neither repented nor believed! Let it never surprise us to see unbelief abounding, both in the Church and in the world.

II. Judgment in the world to come.—We should observe, also, in these verses, how our Lord Jesus Christ testifies to the truth of a resurrection and a life to come. He speaks of the Queen of the South, whose name and dwelling-place are now alike unknown to us. He says ‘she shall rise up in the judgment.’ He speaks of the men of Nineveh, a people who have passed away from the face of the earth. He says of them also, ‘they shall rise up.’ There is something very solemn and instructive in the language which our Lord here uses. It reminds us that this world is not all, and that the life which man lives in the body on earth is not the only life of which we ought to think. The kings and queens of olden time are all to live again one day, and to stand before the bar of God. We shall yet see them face to face.

Bishop J. C. Ryle.

Illustrations

(1) ‘So far from wondering that there have been men like Hobbes, and Payne, and Rousseau, and Voltaire, we ought rather to wonder that such men have been so few. So far from marvelling that the vast majority of professing Christians remain unaffected and unmoved by the preaching of the Gospel, we ought to marvel that any around us believe at all. Why should we wonder to see that old disease, which began with Adam and Eve, infecting all their children? Why should we expect to see more faith among men and women now than was seen in our Lord’s time? The enormous amount of unbelief and hardness on every side may well grieve and pain us. But it ought not to cause surprise.’

(2) ‘Let it be noted, that both in Luke 11:31 and in the end of the following verses, the Greek word translated “a greater,” is literally “a greater thing.” It is not improbable that the “thing” referred to is “the sign.” There is one here who is a sign of far greater moment than either Jonah or Solomon. Let it be observed, that the point in which the Queen of the South surpassed the Jews of our Lord’s time and put them to shame, was “faith.” She had faith enough to come a long journey to hear a wise man. The Jews, on the other hand, had “the wisdom of God “actually in the midst of them, preaching and teaching for three years, and yet they would not believe. Let it be observed, that the point in which the Ninevites surpassed the Jews and put them to shame, was repentance. They had among them for a short time a prophet, and a very weak and erring prophet too. Yet they repented and turned to God. The Jews had among them the mightiest and most faithful preacher that ever warned a people, and yet they would not repent.’


Verse 36

SPIRITUAL LIGHT

‘If thy whole body therefore be full of light, having no part dark, the whole shall be full of light.’

Luke 11:36

We learn from these words of the Lord Jesus—

I. The importance of making a good use of religious light and privileges.—When the Gospel of Christ is placed before a man’s soul, it is as if God offered to him a lighted candle. It is not sufficient to hear it, and assent to it, and admire it, and acknowledge its truth. It must be received into the heart, and obeyed in the life.

II. The value of a single and undivided heart in religion.—This is a lesson which our Lord illustrates from the office of the eye in the human body. He reminds us that when the eye is ‘single,’ or thoroughly healthy, the action of the whole body is influenced by it. But when, on the contrary, the eye is evil, or diseased, it affects the physical comfort and activity of the whole man. In an Eastern country, where eye diseases are painfully common, the illustration is one which would be particularly striking.

Bishop J. C. Ryle.

Illustration

‘The meaning of Luke 11:36 is at first sight nothing more than the assertion of a simple truism. It seems nothing more than saying, “If thy body shall be light, it shall be light.” This, however, is plainly not the full meaning of our Lord’s words. The meaning of the words appears to be as follows. “If the eye of thy soul is thoroughly healthy, and thy heart thoroughly right in the sight of God, so that thy whole character is enlightened and influenced by it, then shall thy whole character shine after the manner of a candle which enlightens thee by its shining. Thou shalt not only have light for thyself, but reflect light on others.” The second expression, “full of light,” should be read in close connection with the likeness of the candle which immediately follows. If thou art really full of light, thou shalt be like a lighted candle on a candlestick. Thou shalt be a light to the world. The marginal reading gives a more literal translation of the conclusion of the verse than the authorised version. The literal rendering of the Greek is, “as when a candle, by its bright, flashing shining, enlightens thee.”’


Verse 54

THE NEW LIBERTY

‘Seeking to catch something out of His mouth, that they might accuse Him.’

Luke 11:54

No intelligent observer could fail to notice the opposition towards Jesus Christ in certain quarters. While the common people heard Him gladly, those who were in authority at Jerusalem set themselves against Him, and soon began to plot together for His destruction. Our Lord was sitting at meat with a certain Pharisee, who ‘marvelled’ that He had not ceremonially washed before dinner, and this led the Saviour to speak plainly about the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, who afterwards with the scribes sought to ‘catch something out of His mouth, that they might accuse Him.’

I. The new liberty.—The Pharisees were first of all surprised to see our Lord eating with publicans and sinners. There were two things which struck every observer. To begin with, our Lord allowed a greater freedom, a new freedom, in the practice of godliness; and, secondly, our Lord introduced a new factor into the pursuit of truth, that new factor His own personal authority. They could not get away from it; they could not go near Him without fearing. But while this new factor which Christ introduced into the pursuit of truth, His own personal authority, was the chief ground of the opposition, they found it necessary to avoid a frontal attack. So they attacked the new freedom which Christ allowed in the practice of godliness.

(a) It was, first of all, conspicuous in His own conduct in mixing freely with publicans and sinners.

(b) Then, again, this liberty showed itself in our Lord’s attitude towards the Sabbath.

(c) Again, you see the same liberty in the disciples’ attitude towards fasting.

II. The new authority.—Our Lord, in claiming the larger liberty, bases that claim upon a new authority. It is the new factor of His own personal authority which He has introduced into the pursuit of truth which justifies His larger liberty. But this authority, while exercised on behalf of the larger liberty, never gave the reins to license, for while He pushed aside with one word the whole mass of Pharisaical formalism, He insisted on the deeper purity. ‘Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man.’ That one parable, that one epigram, took the foundation away from nine-tenths of the religion of the Pharisees. They looked upon the material world outside as the source of defilement; Christ declared the chief source of defilement was the unclean heart, the spiritual pride and covetousness and self-seeking. And so He taught that their religion should consist not of multiplied ablutions, but in the unceasing cleansing of the heart by that inflow of the river of the Holy Ghost, that shedding abroad of the love of God in the heart by the Holy Ghost, by which even fallen men can be kept pure in heart towards God. And so Christ’s authority was introduced to bring about a deeper purity, a religion of love.

III. Criticism silenced.—And when the Pharisees asked for this authority, when at last they summoned up courage to send their deputation to Him in the Temple court, their elders and chief priests and scribes, and asked, ‘By what authority doest thou these things?’ what does Christ answer? He silenced them indeed. He silenced them by making their conscience work. Had they any right to ask for His authority? If a man can do good in this way, can there be any question where the power comes from? They were convicted. They were silenced. They said, ‘We cannot tell,’ not because they were in ignorance. They knew that John’s baptism was from heaven, that the authority with which Jesus spoke was Divine; they knew it, but they were not prepared to speak the truth, and so they took refuge in convenient agnosticism.

That is so to-day. There is not a man with a conscience who does not know that Jesus Christ is right, who can go into the presence of Jesus Christ and see what Jesus Christ is working to-day in setting men free from the power of every form of sin, without knowing that the power which works these freedom-miracles is of God. Submit yourselves to the power and you will find what it will do for you; criticise, stand aloof from it, and you shall perish like the Pharisees perished.

—Rev. F. S. Webster.

Illustration

‘In Mark’s Gospel we see, still more clearly than in Luke, set side by side, the relentless opposition of the scribes and Pharisees and the enthusiasm of the populace. In the first twelve chapters of Mark’s Gospel there are only three which do not contain one or more references to these hostile and vigilant critics. The opposition might be divided into three parts. First of all, there are general objections, generally and naturally raised, because of the new spirit and message of the Gospel. We find these in chapters 1, 2, 3, and 6 and 7 and 11 The opposition began that way. Then, in the second stage, was the accusation made by the scribes which came down from Jerusalem, the diabolical suggestion that our Blessed Lord was indeed Satan. And then the third opposition was that of prepared traps and pitfalls. You find these in chapters 8, 10, and 11. We can now only deal with those natural objections which sprang from the new spirit and message of the Gospel.

 


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Bibliography Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Luke 11:4". Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/cpc/luke-11.html. 1876.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, February 19th, 2019
the Sixth Week after Epiphany
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